Sometimes not very accurately described as a cross between Soccer and Rugby, though it is older than either game, Gaelic Football is probably the most popular team sport in Ireland and is played in almost all counties.
It is an entirely amateur game with the men’s game much more popular that the women’s, though the latter is growing fast.
Although there are only 32 counties in Ireland, 34 play in the Gaelic Football All Ireland Championship , with London and New York as ‘honorary’ counties.
The championship series is played throughout the summer, culminating in a final played in Croke Park each September before a crowd of about 80,000 people. Twice that number would probably attend if enough tickets were available.
Main image: Under 16’s match by Kman999
How Gaelic Football is Played
Games are played by two opposing teams of 15 players each, with a ball that is similar but smaller and heavier than a soccer ball. The object is to get the ball though or into the opponent’s goalpost.
The goalpost is H shaped, with a net under the cross post. If the ball goes over the post, a point is scored, if it goes under the post and into the net a goal, which is worth three points, is scored.
The ball can be caught in the hands and carried in the hand for a distance of four steps. It then must be either kicked, passed by striking or punching it with the hand or fist (throwing is not allowed), or ‘solo-ed’, that is dropped onto the players foot then kicked back into his hand.
Scores can be made by a kicked ball or one struck by the hand or fist.
In this short video clip from the 2003 All Ireland Football Semi Final, between Kerry and Tyrone, the speed at which the game is played – and its toughness – is evident.
Where to See Gaelic Football Played
Gaelic football is played all over Ireland, with the strongest counties being Armagh, Cork, Derry, Donegal, Down, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Meath and Tyrone.
As the All Ireland series, a knockout competition between counties, runs during the summer months there is plenty of opportunity for visitors to attend games. For bigger games, which tend to be in late summer, you will need a ticket, but for most you can just pay on the way in. Enquire locally about upcoming games, or check the GAA website or local and national newspapers.
Call into a GAA club any evening when there is training in progress. You will be welcomed, someone will be happy to explain the ins and outs of the game to you. There are GAA clubs in pretty much every parish in Ireland, and most are training throughout the summer, so just ask a local.
Gaelic Football & Australian Rules Football
Australian Rules football, a professional game played in Australia, have quite a few similarities, although the Aussie game is played with an oval ball. Attempts have been made in recent years to establish a joint or compromise code, enabling international games between the two countries.
These have had some if not overwhelming success. The best players in either country tend not to get involved and the fans’ imaginations have not really been fired by the contests, each tending to feel that the rule changes excessively compromise the games.
That said several series of international games have been played in the last 10-12 years, crowds have been good and the players involved have enjoyed the chance to represent their countries.